Similar in many ways to dermatomyositis, Polymyositis is also a rare inflammatory disease where the body’s immune system attacks muscle tissues. It results in muscle weakness that tends to develop slowly over several weeks or months. Eventually, the condition may reach a point where it becomes difficult for those affected to successfully complete movements that involve added pressure on muscles such as walking up stairs or going from a sitting to a standing position.
Muscle weakness is the primary symptom of polymyositis. Weakness tends to be concentrated to areas around the trunk of the body, especially the thighs and hips; although muscle weakness can sometimes extend to the neck, shoulders, neck, and arms. There is no specific cause of polymyositis. It is similar to other autoimmune disorders in that the immune system attacks body tissues by mistake.
As a type of inflammatory myopathy, the direct cause of polymyositis is still unclear to researchers, leaving more study to be done on how and why the condition results in the damage of muscle tissue. Viruses and especially autoimmune diseases seem to instigate the disease, as patients suffering from these illnesses frequently develop polymyositis as a symptom of the underlying disease. This is true primarily in cases of people suffering from the HIV, HTLV-1, or Coxsackie B viruses.
Studies indicate certain drugs may also cause the onset of polymyositis. Among those drawing attention as possible catalysts for the disease are the anesthetic carticaine, penicillamine (used to reduce the body’s copper levels), interferon-alpha (a treatment for certain kinds of cancer and hepatitis), cimetidine (used in the treatment of ulcers), carbimazole (used in treating thyroid disease), and phenytoin, which is used to treat seizures.
More recent studies have indicated that polymyositis can be caused in either the mother or child when a pregnant woman’s blood cells comingle with those of the fetus. While this isn’t a genetic disease, researchers haven’t ruled out the possibility that some genetic markers may make an individual more open to developing the condition than others.
A positive diagnosis is often achieved with electrical tests on nerves and muscles, blood tests to look for elevated enzyme levels (experienced in half of all patients with polymyositis), and a muscle biopsy. Medications and physical therapy are the most common treatment options for managing polymyositis, a condition that’s managed, but not cured.
The goal with physical therapy is to strengthen core muscle groups to reduce the risk of injury. Prednisone is the drug that’s frequently prescribed to treat polymyositis. Some patients require additional treatment with immune-suppressants.
Polymyositis affects both sides of the body and can make it difficult to perform some daily tasks such as reaching and walking. An important part of managing the condition is ongoing patient education on what to expect, although most patients respond well to treatment. Patients are encouraged to remain active in physical therapy sessions and make an effort to retain muscle strength to help minimize symptoms.
Currently, there is no known way to prevent polymyositis from developing. Research is ongoing and has discovered a few risk factors which may increase one’s chances of contracting the condition. In most cases, women between 40 and 60 years old are more susceptible to developing the condition, though men and children can also contract polymyositis.
In addition to the autoimmune disorders previously mentioned, patients suffering from systemic lupus erythematosus have also developed polymyositis. This is largely due to the way in which the disease affects the body’s organs, such as the joints, lungs, kidneys, skin, and heart. Systemic sclerosis, or scleroderma, may also increase the risk of contracting the condition.
Therefore, keeping up to date with the latest research if you feel you may be at risk, being aware of your family history and genetic predispositions, as well as maintaining a generally healthy weight, lifestyle, diet, and mental well-being, can reduce your chances of developing many illnesses.